Another issue that came up in our discussion of deep and surface learning was the value of strategic learning – that is, that successful students find out what exactly is demanded of them in terms of assessment: they want to do well and get good marks (leading to marketable qualifications). I came across a good example of this over Christmas when one of my great-nieces, who is in her first year of a degree course, told me that she had been disappointed in the marks she got for her first exam. She asked for an interview with her tutor, who explained in detail that, although her knowledge was excellent, the way she laid out her statistical tables and the language she used was not sufficiently academic to get her a first-class degree.This seems to me a wholly legitimate way of working: if the knowledge is mastered, it is a shame to let inappropriate language prevent recognition of this in terms of the highest marks. It is something that can easily be changed, when the student knows what is required. It is good that tutors can be approached for advice on such matters.
On the other hand, I was dismayed when working with Bob Farmer on the computer version of Breakthrough to Learning* when he insisted that modern University students will not learn anything for its own sake but only if it is assessed. My own privileged experience of learning was that I found it all fascinating and read round subjects that interested me, whether I was to be examined on them or not. Good marks came from a thorough knowledge of the subject plus a good exam technique. I followed this attitude to learning in my own teaching.
One of the many refreshing things about Matthew Moss High School is that the school cultivates in its learners a love of knowledge for its own sake – something that lasts all one’s life. Their experience shows that this produces, almost incidentally, good exam results, as it did (and does) in my own case.
Two items from the winter issue of the school magazine bear out this healthy attitude: (1) the GCSE results appear at the bottom of page 5 below Climbing at Matthew Moss and Photography Club. (2) Among many other exciting ventures taken on by the school is that they made a presentation to the London Festival of Education alongside – Guess who? – Eton College!